Bluegrass Banjo For Dummies Cheat Sheet - dummies
Cheat Sheet

Bluegrass Banjo For Dummies Cheat Sheet

From Bluegrass Banjo For Dummies

By Bill Evans

The picking-hand sequences known as roll patterns are what gives bluegrass banjo its unique and incredible sound. It’s important for these patterns to become completely second nature, because you use them in all aspects of bluegrass banjo playing. Melodic and single-string banjo techniques offer alternative ways to play based around scales. These ways of playing are used increasingly in progressive bluegrass banjo styles. Trying out a G-major scale using both techniques reveals the difference in these approaches. Finally, when playing with others, you’ll need to support other musicians with backup techniques. A key to playing great banjo accompaniment is knowing your movable up-the-neck chord shapes, beginning with the F-shape chords.

Picking-Hand Bluegrass Roll Patterns

Bluegrass banjo is characterized by a hard-driving, forceful picking-hand approach. Developing good timing is essential to great playing, and you’ll want to practice these rolls slowly at first, keeping a steady rhythm. As you encounter new songs, take note of the many ways that roll patterns are used to capture melodies.

Forward-reverse roll


Alternating thumb roll


Forward roll


Lick roll


Foggy Mountain roll


Backward roll


Middle leading/Osborne roll


Index leading roll


Melodic and Single-String Techniques

In melodic-style banjo, you play scales by striking consecutive notes on different strings. With single-string style, you pick the same string consecutively, usually with an alternation of the thumb and index fingers.

Melodic G-major scale


Single-string G-major scale


Movable F-Shape Chord Positions in the Keys of G, C, and D

The chord progressions for many bluegrass songs are made up of the chords built upon the first, fourth, and fifth notes of the major scale of the key of the song. Internalizing the I–IV–V chord positions using the F chord shape prepares you for playing great bluegrass banjo backup with fretting and vamping techniques.

Key of G: G, C, and D chords


Key of C: C, F, and G chords


Key of D: D, G, and A chords